Thanks to professional video gamers nowadays, esports has advanced far to close the distance to regular sports. Here we provide you with 5 stories about Esports figures who chose to walk the path with their passion.

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With huge crowds, can Esports catch up with regular sports?

1. Team Signify - Dota 2

After hours of training, team members of one athlete squad in India gather to discuss their professional strategies. Boasting the team’s black jerseys, sitting in comfortable chairs, they join the lively discussion with their fellows to come up with some new game tactics.

Later on, they come back to their profession and begin to work on it. But it is no regular sports like football, cricket or baseball. They put on their headsets, clear their eyes, head to the computer screen and compete with their mouse and keyboard.

Team Signify, an Esports squad in India, features the #1 Dota 2 competitive team in India. The squad composes of 5 men in their 20-ish year of life, led by the captain Raunak “MrCrowley” Sen who is just 22 years old. They actively play competitive Dota 2 for a monthly salary of ₹25,000-₹40,000 ($360 to $580) together with the freedom to use their gaming house and tournament travel expense. As part of their contract, 30% of tournament earnings will go to their sponsor, Horizon Sports.

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The team found much success under the banner of Signify

Signify looks strong, winning against domestic teams to be called the best in the Indian scene. Though the team has yet to make an international reputation for themselves, the large number of tournaments in the country has raised awareness of people about Esports and Dota 2.

Competitive video gaming, or Esports, has received wide recognition with big crowds and real investment into hosting events. In countries where Esports even rivals traditional sports like Korea, China, Denmark, the career for professional players is optimistic. Players competing at the top can claim hundreds thousand of dollar or even millions each year. In the less Esports developed countries like India, things are just warming up. Globally, Indian players don’t stand anywhere,” says Mujahid Rupani, co-founder and CEO of Cobx Gaming, another Route Mobile promoted entity that organizes esports tournaments. “But as the infrastructure around esports gets built, esports will explode,” he says.

With affordable internet fee, people are more willing to enter the playground. Tournaments are where they can prove themselves before the crowd and Esports organizations. This, in turn, attracts more investment into Esports, developing the whole industry even more. More money invested means better quality of events, pulling in a bigger crowd. It is like a virtuous circle that needs some initial push. The number of occasional viewers and esports enthusiasts is expected to grow five-fold from 4 million in 2017 to 20 million in 2021, according to KPMG.

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The black jersey team, well known for their #1 Dota 2 roster on the server

2. Tirth Mehta - Hearthstone

Tirth Mehta met Hima Das at the Asian Games in Jakarta in August last year, he got intrigued. The athlete sprinter Hima Das has scored a Silver Medal in the 400-meter race for her own India nation after breaking her own record at 50.79 s in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia. However, the Hearthstone player at the time didn’t know that the sprinter realized him as well. Tirth Mehta himself also brought home the first Esport medal at the Games for his own country, placing third in Hearthstone, a widely recognized online strategic card game.

The conversation between the two successful athletes went well, as Hima got genuinely amused with Tirth Mehta’s achievement. She said that “Esports requires skill and dedication to excel at, just like any other sport.”

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Hearthstone is a game that requires skill and dedication to excel at, just like any other sport

Although Mehta’s contribution wasn’t added to Idia’s medal record as Esports was still in a trial at the event, he still gained much recognition. Those who once laugh off his passion for gaming now takes a different stance. “My parents always believed in me, but after my win, everybody else also started encouraging me to play more,” says Mehta.

He also adds: “gaming might not require physical skill [like a traditional sport], but it requires mental skill, just like chess or bridge. Strategic thinking, quick action and optimal use of resources are some of the skills that set-top players apart”

Unlike players in Team Signify, Mehta is not sponsored or stands for any Esports organization. He earns his living by writing content for Tempo Storm, a US-based Esports organization. He practices five or six hours a day to prepare for 6 to 7 tournaments around the year to get a chance at taking home a few lakh (equals to around $1,400)

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The first Bronze Medal for the nation in Esports

3. Vidushi "Mogambo" Singh Suryavanshi - League of Legends

With a keyboard and mouse, ‘Mogambo’ crushes the hope for her opponents when she goes on to destroy the Nexus they cling on to. As part of her five members team, Mogambo takes on the role of the champion Ashe to carry her teammates.

Ashe is one of the 143 ‘champions’ featured in the well-renowned game League of Legends “Ashe is one of my all-time favorites,” says Vidushi Singh Suryavanshi.

People are often surprised when they realized Mogambo is a girl. She often replied as if it was nothing out of the ordinary.

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An intriguing game which women can play well like men

When Suryavanshi started out five years ago, Suryavanshi went by a more feminine alias “moniker”, but as female gamers aren’t taken seriously, she switched to Mogambo. She went to reaching Platinum 1 ranking, one of the higher divisions based on skill in League of Legends parlance just in two or three years of playing. At the time she was the only girl in South Asia to reach the that high ranking.

The attitude towards girl gamers led Suryavanshi to create India’s first all-girl League of Legends squad two years ago, putting together the best players from across the country. The team is named Girlaxy India, who finished third in the NESC 2017 qualifiers, where the winning team would play at the Esports World Championship at Busan, Korea.

Today, besides playing tournaments with her squad, Suryavanshi works as a marketer at a games publisher; she spends time for her game at night for a couple of hours, preparing herself well ahead of a tournament. Constant updates by the League publishers ensure that the game is ever evolving so players have to keep “studying” to stay on top, she says.

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The Girlaxy India leader

4. Shagufta Iqbal - Streamer

Besides people earning their income by playing for Esports organizations or attending tournaments, some Esport gamers can manage with streaming their gameplay on live platforms like YouTube or Twitch. Shagufta Iqbal who lives in Bengaluru, for instance, earns ₹20,000 a month by live-streaming games like PUBG, CS:GO and Overwatch.

It’s one thing to be good at gaming and quite another to be good at entertaining. To stream successfully, you have to be entertaining; you have to engage the people on the chat,” says the 25-year-old who worked as a coder at Capgemini in Pune before quitting late last year to focus on streaming. Alongside, she creates content for gaming platform GamerConnect.

Iqbal does this as a job two times a day with each spanning 3 hours. She streams her gameplay with playful commentary added to make her show more entertaining and tempting to the audience. Her main source of income is from members who subscribe to her YouTube channel at ₹169 a month to get the chance to play with her. However, income from commercials on Youtube is less appealing as most people use ad blockers. With current 45,000 subscribers for her YouTube channel, she goes on stream quite often. She adds that more successful streamers can earn much more money, like up to ₹1 lakh a month.

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Streamer can earn their income by playing their favorite game

5. Samarth ‘Cranko’ Trivedi - League of Legends

It is another entirely different story for Samarth ‘Cranko’ Trivedi when he sets his foot on the territory of Esports. He was massively impressed by League of Legends after seeing one Korean gamer streaming the game. He had been playing Dota 1 for a long time but couldn’t find his feet in it. After getting inspired by League of Legend, he went on to learn the game and got good at it in no time. His talent was so tremendous that Team Impunity specifically recruited him for the local tournament in Singapore. Getting support from everyone, Trivedi flew there to finish second place with the team.

After the run with Impunity, He returned to Mumbai and went on to practice hard to join Tyranny, a top ranking Indian team in mid-2017. They managed to qualify for the Esports World Championship but missed the opportunity due to the lack of sponsorship.

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Infrastructure should be implemented to help with Esports growth

“There’s a lack of awareness about esports in India... we desperately need investment in infrastructure,” laments Trivedi. “It’s not just about organizing tournaments [several now take place in India]; esports organizations need to nurture players, create brands out of them. Then the sponsors will follow,”

Rupani of Cobx Gaming agrees with Trivedi. While Esports is growing as the number of tournaments in India has soared up, and the prize pool is much better, much is still needed. “To begin with the government needs to recognize esports as a sport. Once sponsors are aware of the scope of esports, the money will flow in, making it a sustainable career option for players,” he says. International teams also need to be encouraged to play in India, to enable a “knowledge transfer”, he says, much like how cricket’s Indian Premier League shaped up.

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"Esports need better support infrastructure," says Samarth Trivedi

Moreover, the lifespan of gamers is so short. Reflex and reactions are critical in gaming which will be much worse once gamers reach a certain age, namely 26. Post-career professions like a commentator, analyst or coach are not yet a concept in India.

Until we have that option available, we need another four to five years to have Esports a long-term career option.

As for Trivedi, he now has the backing of Pakistani esports organization Portal Esports. His teammates are based in the neighboring country and they practice online, logging on at a specific time every day. “I’m looking forward to playing tournaments with them. I want to make it big internationally. This is my career.”